Kids Less Fussy About Veggies if Introduced Early

Repeated exposure to a vegetable early in life encouraged young preschool children to eat more of it

(RxWiki News) Parents often have a hard time getting young children to eat vegetables. New research says that timing and repetition may be key to getting kids to eat their veggies.

A recent study found that exposing infants to a new vegetable early in life encouraged them to eat more of it compared to offering the same vegetable to toddlers and preschool children.

The researchers discovered that the three characteristics that contributed to young children's increased acceptance of basic foods were not being fussy about eating food, enjoying eating food and knowing when they were full.

"Ask a pediatrician when your child should start eating specific foods."

The lead author of this study was Marion M. Hetherington, PhD, from the Institute of Psychological Sciences at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom.

The study included 332 preschool children between the ages of 4 and 38 months from Denmark, United Kingdom and France. These children were recruited for the study between January and May 2011.

Parents and caregivers provided information on their child’s history of breast feeding, starting formula and starting solid food.

The researchers’ goal was to evaluate the children’s food fussiness, enjoyment of food, satiety responsiveness (if they know when to stop eating after they are full) and food responsiveness.

The children were each given 200 grams of basic artichoke puree before the intervention and after the intervention so the researchers could see how much they ate in one sitting.

Artichoke was chosen as the sample vegetable because the parents reported that artichoke was one of the vegetables least-offered to their children.

Then the researchers randomly assigned the children to one of three intervention groups:

  • 112 children were given basic artichoke puree.
  • 112 children were given sweetened artichoke puree.
  • 108 children were given artichoke puree with vegetable oil mixed in for added energy.

Each child was given their type of artichoke puree five to 10 times at a time when they were hungry, such as before a main meal, as an afternoon snack or at the beginning of a meal.

The findings showed that, overall, the younger children ate more of the basic artichoke than the older children, both before and after the intervention.

The researchers determined four distinct patterns of eating behavior:

  • The “learners” were the children who increased how much of the artichoke they ate over time (40 percent).
  • The “plate-clearers” were the children who ate more than 75 percent of what was given to them each time (21 percent).
  • The “non-eaters” were the children who ate less than 10 grams by the fifth exposure to their type of artichoke puree (16 percent).
  • The “others” were the children whose eating patterns varied across the course of the study (23 percent).

The children’s ages were significant predictors of their eating pattern, with the older preschool children being more likely to be “non-eaters."

Those in the “plate-clearer” category were found to enjoy their food more and have lower satiety responsiveness compared to those in the “non-eater” category — those who were the fussiest with their food.

The findings also revealed that the children who ate the artichoke puree with added energy showed the smallest change of food intake over time compared to the other two groups.

The researchers concluded that repeated exposure clearly familiarized the children with a basic food. However, they suggested that older preschool children and those who are fussier than average may need to be encouraged through alternative strategies such as using dips and sauces, or hiding the vegetables in other food.

Guidelines set forth by the National Institutes of Health recommend starting to wean children onto solid foods at 6 months old.

This study was limited because much of the data was self-reported, and the children from Denmark and France were given access to 200 grams of artichoke puree during the intervention, whereas the children from the United Kingdom were only give 100 grams.

Also, the youngest children came from France, so the researchers could not use country residence as a predictor in eating patterns, and the researchers had no way of knowing if the observed patterns lasted past early childhood.

This study was published on May 30 in PLOS ONE.

The European Community’s Seventh Framework Program and the Regional Council of Burgundy provided funding.

Review Date: 
June 4, 2014